Seven weeks on… an update from our CEO
At Three, our mission is to provide a better-connected life for our customers, something which the last seven weeks has shown to be absolutely critical.
Teams across Three UK have been working around the clock to ensure that we are able to continue providing a quality network experience for people to get the help they need and keep in touch with friends and family.
Providing connectivity for our customers while protecting the health and safety of our employees is our top priority.
With the UK now entering week 7 (w/c 4th May) of lockdown, I wanted to provide an update on the measures that we have been taking to keep the UK connected and our support for customers and the NHS at this time.
The health and safety of our employees and their families and loved ones is of the utmost importance to us here at Three.
I want to pay a special thank you to our frontline key workers who are still out there in the field, upgrading technology and fixing broken antennas to keep our customers connected. The work that they are doing to maintain the network has never been of more importance and is allowing our customers to keep in touch with friends and family and work from home.
While social distancing is being maintained wherever possible, we know that being outdoors can never be as safe as being at home, so we thank them for their dedication.
Following direction by the government, we have closed our stores and we have taken the decision to furlough about 80% of our retail staff on 100% pay, in order to be able to protect these roles for the future. The rest of our retail team is supporting customer queries on live chat (400 advisors) or using Three Store Now (200 advisors) to assist customers through the online sales experience.
I’d like to thank the team for the agility they’ve shown to support our customers in a time of need. We look forward to welcoming everyone back to Retail as and when we are able to re-open our stores.
The majority of staff across our Maidenhead, Reading and Glasgow offices have been working from home since 17th March. It is amazing how busy we all are and how well this has been working so far. It shows how far technology has come along in the last decade – I dread to think what the impact of lockdown would have been if this happened in the Noughties rather than today.
We have a dedicated cross-functional team that meets daily to evaluate recent developments, coordinate planning activities and provide guidance to our employees.
We have created a working from home hub on our intranet, providing people with information on how to work from home and encouraging our staff to check in regularly with their teams to recreate the ‘water cooler’ moment.
We also have several support options for employees such as our Employee Assistance Programme and our Digital Doctor service, that may bring some comfort for those who are anxious or concerned at this difficult time.
Our focus has been on maintaining the resilience of the network. All non-essential work has been frozen so that we can focus on maintaining capacity to meet the increased demand from our customers.
The first two weeks after lockdown was announced saw a big increase in volumes for our network and I wanted to give you a flavour of the increases in March (bear in mind that lockdown only began on 23rd March although working from home was encouraged from the 16th March).
- Calls – increase of 8% to 1.3 billion in March.
- Average call duration increased by 21% to almost 4 mins.
- Data usage up 12% despite main video providers reducing the quality of their streaming
- Use of Zoom up 1325% and Facetime up 100%.
- Calls to prayer lines doubled in the first two weeks of lockdown
Traffic is still significantly above normal levels for calls and data and the steps that we have taken in adding extra capacity are working. Our teams will continue to work on keeping customers connected, leaving their homes to go to work so they don’t have to.
I want to address the issue of attacks on our key workers and on our mast sites. We have had over 30 attacks on our sites, each and every one of them endangering lives. These attacks have led to a loss or degradation of connectivity for almost 100,000 people – this means loved ones are not able to check in on one another and access to critical services could be hindered despite emergency calls being unaffected.
There is absolutely no link between 5G and Coronavirus. The 5G rollout by all UK MNOs complies with all global standards on health and safety which have been developed since the early 1990s – you can see recent independent testing from Ofcom here.
We are working closely with the authorities; the Government has been very supportive and been vocal in its support of the industry and what we are trying to achieve. Anyone found to have damaged sites will be prosecuted and I urge members of the public to report any suspicious activity around any mobile site.
Our Customer Care
In addition to our Retail stores, our contact centres in India and Glasgow have also remained closed since the end of March as per the advice from the UK and Indian governments.
Since the closing of our contact centres, the teams have done an amazing job to set up remote working advisors across India and Scotland to ensure we can help as many customers as we can. We have nearly 1500 advisors on live chat supporting customers from their homes and this is more than double the number of chat advisors we had before closures. This includes the 400 Retail advisors who are supporting customers from their homes. We have managed to drive a digital shift so we can support our customers more efficiently at a time like this.
We have more than 1200 advisors taking calls from home and we’ve chosen to prioritise speaking to customers who need support with cancellation, complaints and payment difficulties as this was the biggest need from customers asking to speak to us. We are nearly half way there with the number of advisors we used to have however this is compensated with more live chat.
We thank our customers for their patience and continue to ask that they explore digital options, including live chat so our phone lines are available to our customers most in need. Digital options include the My3 app, where customers can manage their account and top up, Three Store Now, an assisted sales channel on our website, and Three Live, a broadcast channel for product demos which can take questions from online viewers.
As I said in my update on 17 March, the majority of our customers have Three’s Unlimited data offering, which allows them to catch up with loved ones and work effectively without compromise. For our business customers, we are helping to keep their workforces connected from any location, allowing businesses to remain as productive as possible.
The last six weeks has highlighted the importance of being able to access the right sources of information and being able to speak to love ones at our time of greatest need, so we have made a number of changes to support this, including:
- Free unlimited allowances for NHS frontline staff for the next three months – All NHS frontline staff who use their phones for work will have unlimited allowances for the next three months.
- Zero-rated access to all NHS website domains – Anyone using the Three network can access information regardless of whether they have allowances or credit left.
- Zero-rated calls to NHS 111 and the new 119 number.
- Hospedia – Some NHS trusts use a service called Hospedia to provide patients with bedside phones which can be reached by dialling a premium rate number. For the duration of Coronavirus, we have removed the charge that Three applies for calling the number linked to this service and will refund all charges back to March 1.
- Zero-rating on NHS video consultations provided by Attend Anywhere’, so that customers can attend virtual outpatient appointments without eating into their data allowance.
- Removal of all delivery charges.
- Supporting our PAYG top up customers by texting them with information on other ways to top up and stay connected.
- Launched a flexible 4G home broadband solution available on a 30-day contract for £30 per month and £29 upfront.
- Launched over a dozen partnership offers for customers – all focussed around lockdown i.e. Live Fitness, Yoga, Lucky Voice, Shaw Academy etc.
Visit three.co.uk/stay-connected for more information on the above.
Helping the vulnerable
To help some of the most vulnerable and their families, we’re working with several charities across the UK to supply equipment and access to a digital connection. Connecting people and keeping them in touch with their nearest and dearest is a simple way for us to do our bit in these unprecedented times.
We have put together a small fund which means that we’re able to help connect critically ill patients to their families, maintain support networks for kids with learning and social challenges, and get broadband into homes that aren’t online.
This is in addition to our Community Fund, which enables employees to help the organisations and groups that mean the most to them. Each month we donate £500 to 5 causes, as chosen by our employees.
Finally, please remember to continue to follow all the guidance and advice offered you by the government and the health service. I hope that you and your families stay safe and I am confident that we will come through this together, stronger.
Robert Finnegan, CEO